Monday, April 17, 2017


I know that there are many who believe that I am antediluvian, hopelessly so; and they are probably right...or close to it. But it is that sense of history, the memory of what was and the vision of what could be that fills me every day with a growing profound sadness about what is. Wish that I could treat the entirety of the past decade of JFNA as some sort of joke that we could just laugh off and move on, but, as you readers know, the decade past hasn't been funny at all, not one bit.

JFNA has become a shambolic mess, pure and simple. While much of that mess can be laid at Silverman's feet, equally guilty, if not more so, are Jerry's enablers, from the Search "process" that recommended his hiring, to a succession of Board Chairs who have demanded nothing more from the CEO than that he serve as the obsequious hand puppet cheering on moronic, wasteful schemes (yes, the Global Planning Table) or that he just get out of their way. These are our elected lay leaders; they are not the utter poltroons that they have chosen to be in their leadership roles. But in the iterations of lay leadership over there past decade, maundering has been the substitute for substance, and mediocrity or worse has been presented as excellence.

Friends, there was a through line, a common passion, that ran directly from the formation of the United Jewish Appeal in 1939 right up to the merger that was to become JFNA 60 years later and, then, that through line came up against the wall of leadership ignominy beginning with Kanfer and and ending with Sandler and Silverman. (This is not to say that any of these lay leaders lack or lacked passion; it's just that they neither knew nor know how to channel it -- just another function of a lack of a strong professional partner with a knowledge of the federation system these lay leaders were elected to lead.) We reached the inflection point for JFNA 7+ years ago when a rapacious Board Chair ignored all of the negative implications for the system and for the organization she was elected to Chair when she demanded of her stacked Search Committee that one with no knowledge of our system and without the ability to understand or motivate it as our CEO with the mantra of "thinking outside the box." 

Maybe it was Colin Powell who first articulated the "Pottery Barn Rule" -- "If you break it, you own it." It seems that a succession of JFNA leaders felt/feel that inasmuch as they inherited a broken thing, how can they own it? I mean, really, just to cite one example: when Michael Siegal and his team concluded that Silverman could not manage the organization and brought in Mark Gurvis from within the federation system to do so, Jerry was given a raise apparently for agreeing to perform half of the job description for which he was hired. Then, to succeed Siegal, came Richard Sandler who, before he took office, essentially announced that he believed that the lay leaders' seminal responsibility is to take office and "get out of the professionals' way" -- apparently without regard to the mediocrity and worse that this philosophy had already perpetuated at 25 Broadway.

And, so, the failures of JFNA continue as if ineluctable; the organization has been allowed to become a parlous mess. Jerry has proved to be uneducable; neither a student capable of learning nor an autodidact. At one point three years ago, Jerry pounded his chest in front of a group of Federation CEOs and announced that he was throwing off the chains under which he was constrained (presumably the need to get approval for anything of substance from the Large City Executives) and, from that point on, it would be, in his words, "Jerry being Jerry." And, from that point forward...nothing. And, "nothing" truly appears to be "Jerry being Jerry."

If, as in almost all of our communities, JFNA's chief professional officer had been given a true performance-based evaluation, Silverman would have been long gone -- gone after the three-time failure of TribeFests or after his unquestioning support of the farcical multi-million dollar flop that was the GPT, or...Instead we have a "good old boy" evaluation -- and the total lack of results applauded. (I am reminded of Michael Siegal's "explanation" of the preposterous extension of Jerry's contract after 4+ years of failure -- with not one accomplishment cited because there was not one that was citable.)

In so many places we live in a New World -- one of "alternate facts." At JFNA today and for the past, at least, 7+ years, we live in an "alternate universe" -- one where failure is described as success (e.g., GA after GA), where nothing is what truly is, where everything is what it isn't. These JFNA lay leaders, the current team of lay leaders and their predecessors, come into office and quickly occupy that fake universe where the skies are azure blue and JFNA is doing "just great."

And I have come to conclude, in an organization where the mantra should be S.N.A.F.U.
we will see unicorns and pigs fly before there are any changes. JFNA will just continue down its path to a cost of $30 million per year.



Anonymous said...

Richard, JFNA has become nothing more than an iceberg-seeking ship. It can't figure out what it is and it can't figure out what it should be. In fact its leaders don't care that it is afloat merely as a vehicle for wasting tens of millions of hard-raised dollars. I can't believe that respected leaders like Eric Goldstein, Steve Nasatir, Jacob Solomon and Steve Hoffman are and have been complicit bystanders. This failure and waste will be their legacy.

Anonymous said...

Change will come when federations look at their limited financial resources and tell JFNA that going forward, they will only pay, let's say for example, 75% of their current dues; using the 25% for their local and Israel & Overseas needs.
That is the federations' new-normal' in 2017; why should JFNA get a pass and be allowed to have a budget of $30 million?
Imaging a JFNA with a $20 million budget: What critical services would the federations really lose if $10 million disappeared from the budget (I'm using $10 million as an example....personally I'd look at $15 million)?
Someone needs to start that ball rolling, and once started, it will gather the momentum that will force the change that is needed.
It will not come from a Board Chair or the CEO, whether it is Silverman or someone else when his current contract expires.

Anonymous said...

The "normal" for JFNA today is the lowest point for any organization with which I or my peers have ever been associated. Many of us are exhausted from trying to do what you don't, quietly and privately discussing the"situation" with Sandler. He just does not want to be confused with the facts of JFNA dysfunction and of Silverman being the wrong person at the wrong time to be the face of the organization. He won't hear of it and, from 3,000 miles away and the most absentee of any Board Chair (although Siegal was a close second ) he has chosen to believe that all is well. It's a mess.